Ralph 124C 41+
Serialized in Modern Electrics
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Ralph 124C 41+, by Hugo Gernsback, is an early science fiction novel, written as a twelve-part serial in Modern Electrics magazine beginning in April 1911. It was compiled into novel/book form in 1925. While one of the most influential science fiction stories of all time, modern critics tend to pan the novel and few people read it today. The title itself is a play on words, ( 1 2 4 C 4 1 + ) meaning "One to foresee for one another".
The eponymous protagonist saves the life of the heroine by directing energy remotely at an approaching avalanche. As the novel goes on, he describes the technological wonders of the modern world, frequently using the phrase "As you know..." The hero finally rescues the heroine by travelling into space on his own "space flyer" to rescue her from the villain's clutches.
Some successful predictions from this novel include television (and channel surfing), remote-control power transmission, the video phone, transcontinental air service, solar energy in practical use, sound movies, synthetic milk and foods, artificial cloth, voiceprinting, tape recorders, and spaceflight. It also contains "...the first accurate description of radar, complete with diagram...", according to Arthur C. Clarke in his "non-genre" novel Glide Path (1963).
- "A pulsating polarized ether wave, if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light-ray is reflected from a bright surface or from a mirror..."
Inevitably, some of the science predictions made in the story turned out to be wrong.
For example, in 1911 it was commonly assumed that, just as a sound wave needed a medium to travel in, so did a light wave. Ether was postulated as the unknown substance that light traveled in. In the story an ether vacuum occurred when too much energy was radiated at once. Radiation caused more ether to be drawn to an area of energy expenditure and the lack of ether resulting from this overusage caused a temporary blackout because light could not travel where there was no ether. Heat and cold could also not be transferred during such a blackout. It is now known that such ether does not exist and is not needed for light to travel. Such effects are impossible.
Influence and critical reception
Even though Ralph 124C 41+ is one of the most influential science fiction stories of all time, and filled with numerous science fiction ideas, few people still read the story. Brian Aldiss has called the story a "tawdry illiterate tale" and a "sorry concoction" while Lester del Rey called it "simply dreadful." Martin Gardner referred to the book as "surely the worst SF novel ever written."  Groff Conklin more generously described it as "thoroughly delightful . . . [with] the genuine charm of a sound, workmanlike antique."
Reviewing the 1950 Frederick Fell edition in the New York Times, Rex Lardner wrote that while the "fine" novel "contain[ed] a good deal of sound prophecy, . . . it has a narrative style as quaint as the retarder on a Hupmobile." Everett F. Bleiler similarly noted that "The literary treatment is on a very low level, but Ralph 124C41+ is renowned for its many highly imaginative technical projections."
While most other modern critics have little positive to say about the story's writing, Ralph 124C 41+ is still considered an "essential text for all studies of science fiction" and "arguably the first major work of American science fiction".
Specially named inventions and technological devices
- Accelerated Plant Growing Farms: Huge greenhouse farms used to feed the rapidly growing Earth population. They can grow five harvests per year as opposed to normal harvests of two in 1911.
- Aeroflyer: A small flying transport that can reach speeds of up to 600 mph.
- Appetizer: A large waiting room in more scientifically advanced restaurants. The room is flooded with gases that increase the appetites/hunger before eating.
- Automatic-Electric Packing Machines
- Bacillatorium: A decontamination chamber for the home. It uses fictional Arcturium rays to kill bacteria, which can extend a person's total life expectancy to 120–140 years.
- Electromobiles: Basically an electric car that receives energy through a collector mast from city generators.
- Gyroscope: This is used to fly to other planets. Rocket propulsion is not mentioned at all. The rotation of a gyroscope can be used to counter vertical gravity.
- Helio-Dynamophores: Basically solar panels. To minimize atmospheric interference, Meteoro-Towers are used.
- Hypnobioscope: A sleep learning device. Information is recorded on black film as a white wavy line that is transmitted to the sleeper via wires into a headband with metal plates.
- Luminor: An automated lighting system that responds to voice commands to activate and change intensity of illumination. This is an example of fluorescent lighting or cold light, but the term fluorescent lighting is not used in the story.
- Menograph: A device that can record a person's thoughts in writing using a type of mind-script.
- Money: The value of money is based on the faith and credit of the government. It can be dispensed like a roll tape. Denominations can be torn off the tape. No mention of electronic money is made.
- Meteoro-Towers: Weather control stations.
- Newspaper: A postage stamp sized newspaper consisting of 8 pages. It can only be read by inserting it into a projector or portable viewer to see the very tiny print. Each page can be revealed by exposing it to a different color of light, which will also hide the other 7 pages from sight. It is updated every 30 minutes. No mention of electronic news or an internet is made.
- Packet-Post Conveyer: Underground postal delivery system using conveyor belts.
- Permagatol: A green gas that preserves organic matter indefinitely without any deterioration whatsoever.
- Phonolphabet Machine: A voice recorder that records speech graphically using a phonolphabet language. One can either read the recording or play it back as an audio recording.
- Platinum-Barium-Arturium Eyeglasses: Basically X-ray specs that really work, except they can only detect radium-infused elements through solid matter.
- Pulsating Polarized Ether Wave: Basically a type of radar device before the word "radar" was coined.
- Radioperforer: A handheld weapon that shoots Radium beams that can stun or kill.
- Signalizers: A searchlight guidance system for flying machines consisting of multiple colors and blinking patterns
- Space Flyer: An interplanetary flying machine using gyroscopes.
- Subatlantic Tube: An underground train that uses magnetism to move 300 mph. The path of the tube is through the Earth to make a direct path from Europe to North America.
- Telautograph: A device to transfer handwriting through a Telephot (picture phone). Basically a fax machine, except handwriting transfers as the person writes.
- Tele-Motor Coasters
- Telephot: This is basically a picture phone. It also includes a universal translator, where language translation can be opted using a dial control.
- Tele-Theater: This is like a television, but with differences. It is really a series of telephots that almost seamlessly combine to make up one large picture. Live events like an opera or a play can be seen from one's home with this device. Communications can be made in both directions while the device is broadcasting. It is not mentioned if it can be used to show previously recorded entertainment.
- Vacation City: A domed city suspended 20,000 feet in the air using a device that nullifies gravity. No mechanical devices are permitted in such cities because they are strictly used as an escape from a mechanized world.
In the anime Ergo Proxy, the main character, Re-l Mayer, has the ID number 124C41+.
In the video game Mass Effect 2: Jacob Taylor's father was a crewman aboard a vessel named "The Hugo Gernsback" as a nod toward the author's fascination with free-willed robots, romance, and space travel.
- Gernsback, Hugo (2000). Ralph 124c 41+. University of Nebraska Press. p. 207. ISBN 0-8032-7098-4.
- The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction by Gary Westfahl, Liverpool University Press, 1999, page 135.
- Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature Volume 3: Lest Darkness Fall by T. A. Shippey and A. J. Sobczak, Salem Press, 1996, page 767.
- The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction by Gary Westfahl, Liverpool University Press, 1999, page 92.
- Introduction to "Science-fiction: The Gernsback Years : a Complete Coverage of the Genre" by Everett Franklin Bleiler, Richard Bleiler, Kent State University Press, 1998.
- "Galaxy's Five Star Shelf," Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1950, p.64.
- "Spacemen's Realm", The New York Times, September 17, 1950
- Everett F. Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Early Years, Kent State University Press, 1990, p.282
- The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction by Gary Westfahl, Liverpool University Press, 1999, page 93.
- Books, arts and culture Prospero (December 26, 2011). "Science fiction: Rejoice for Utopia is nigh!". The Economist. Retrieved 2011-12-31.